7 Actions to Eliminate $650k of Debt


When I stumbled upon the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement about four years ago, we were drowning in debt.  We were certain we would be broke forever. I was in the middle of a career crisis and suffering from extreme burnout.  But we had also just adopted four children, doubling our family of four to a family of eight – quitting my career was simply an impossibility. We NEEDED to get out of debt, but didn’t see how we could.

In a moment of desperation – I turned to the Interwebs.  All the answers are on the Interwebs, right? Searching for a way to make money online, I somehow stumbled upon the MadFientist.

He is a regular guy, an engineer, who saved over 50% of his income and was able to retire early and do whatever he wanted.  Mind. Blown.  It got me thinking, if a regular person can save 50% of their income and live however they wanted – certainly there was a way for us to do it too.


That first year, we cut everything.  EV.ER.Y.THING.  We reviewed our bank statements and asked the question of every expense:

“Can I reduce this expense?”  or “Can I eliminate this expense entirely?”

From there we began to systematically pay off debt while simultaneously reducing our household expenses.

In that first year – we reduced our monthly expenses by $7,118.00.  We also paid off $35,000.00 in debt and started contributing to Curt’s 403(b) and 457 retirement accounts. A first. Did I mention we were 46 at the time?


1. Housing

Housing is typically our biggest expenses. If you can find a way to reduce your housing costs, you can make bigger progress faster. Some decide to “house-hack” by either adding roomates, become a roomate themselves, or by purchasing a multi-family property and living in one unit and renting out the other(s).

In our case, we decided to sell our house. Our mortgage was over $4000.00, not out of the ordinary in San Diego when taking into account insurance, taxes, HOA fees and Mello Roos fees. We knew we had equity we could unlock when we sold, but we also found we could save about $1,000.00 a month by renting and downsizing a bit. So that’s what we did.

2. Transportation

Car payments are a budget killer. We made paying off our car loans fast a priority. By doing so, we added another $1000.00 dollars or so back into our budget. We have also in the past, so a vehicle at a loss so that we could just get rid of the payment.

3. Got Rid of Toys

We dreamed of having a travel trailer. As a large family, we felt it was one way we could save on expenses when we traveled. So about two years before we started this journey we bought a travel trailer. The interest rate was a killer as were the storage costs. We were paying at least $600 a month between our note and the storage costs. As sad as it made us to do, we decided that selling the trailer was our best move. Again, we took a loss on it and had to pay the balance over what it sold for.

4. Food

Food is one area that can get out of control fairly quickly. But there is also a lot of opportunity there. We now meal plan and usually eat at home. We no longer just buy what we want. We first look to our pantry and our freezer and plan our meals around what we have and what we don’t have, that is what goes on the list.

Another tip is to only shop on designated days. Instead of making big hauls, what works for my family is to limit shopping to once a week. I have 5 boys in my house ages 19-6 and they will eat everything in sight if given a chance. They are like locusts.

5. Insurance Expenses

Often we are unaware of savings we are due unless we take proactive steps to find out. Insurance is one of them. Contact your insurance company and see if you can get a rate reduction. You can also shop around and see if another company is more competitive.

6. Managing subscriptions

Sometimes we forget about subscriptions we have signed up for. It is worth looking over your statements and seeing if there are any you no longer need or want.

7. Sticking to a Budget

Having and sticking to a budget is, BY FAR, the best thing you can do. You have to know what you have to spend every month and then spend what you have intentionally. Your budget is how you do that.

If you don’t have a budget or would like help with your budget. We have a template in our ETSY store. You can also check out a video we did showing you how we do our zero-based budget.

There are so many areas you can cut – if you are willing to do a deep dive and question every expense. Make a game of it.

As for our journey in getting out of debt, were making amazing progress.  We were filled with a hope for our future that we had never experienced before.  Becoming debt-free was beginning to become a reality we could envision.



In September of 2018, we decided to attend the FI Chautauqua in Greece.  For me, it was an opportunity to meet some of the people that had inspired me to make these big changes in our lives.

I am the money nerd in our family and, while Curt was a willing participant in our financial planning, I am certain our hearts were not in true alignment about our financial future.  I LOVE spreadsheets like he loves playing Clash of Clans.  We both could play with them for hours but have no interest in the others hobby.

When I told Curt we were going to Greece – he thought we were going on a vacation, which we were, but he wasn’t aware of the fact that it would be with about 30 other FI enthusiasts whom we had never met. Whoops!

He was quite surprised when we arrived and I am very proud of my husband for playing along that first night.

As I had hoped, Curt had many of his own moments while in Greece, for which I am grateful.  The most wonderful part, though, is that he “got” it.  It all clicked.  He caught “on fire” too.


At the Chautauqua were able to meet and get to know JL Collins, author of the must-read The Simple Path to Wealth, and discuss our plans for our finances and receive some of his insight and perspective.

The impact he has made in our lives has changed our family tree. I’m not sure he is aware of the depth of our gratitude for what he has helped spark.

We went home electrified with excitement about our future and made some pretty audacious goals for the coming year.

When we left the Greece Chautauqua, though we had made some great progress before even arriving, the reality was that we were still in almost one million dollars of debt and our expenses were still too high for me to stop working. We still had large mountains to climb.

We came home and went to work.  We began to think outside of the box and asked ourselves, what is the one thing we DO have?  It was our house.  After much thought, emotional footwork and more spreadsheets, we revised our plan, made some radical choices and started executing.

We weren’t sure if we would be able to pull it off but the numbers said it would work and what we have learned from the very beginning of this journey is this – MATH IS MATH. We decided to trust the numbers.


Earlier this month we returned to the FI Chautauqua, this year in Portugal.  We were eager to see friends, meet new ones – but also to share with the group how much they meant to us and how much of an impact the experience of being connected to such a wonderful community had made in our lives.

Very few people at the Chautauqua knew our entire story.  They knew we had faced financial challenges and that we had a large family and that we had a blog and podcast – but I don’t think anyone really knew the extent of our financial situation.

We decided to share the difference 365 days between FI Chautauquas had made in our lives to the group.  It meant so much to us to verbally express our gratitude to this group of amazing humans who had thrown us a life vest.

In the one year between the Greece and Portugal Chautauquas we have been able to accomplish the following:

  • We sold our house and used the equity to pay off debt and invest.
  • Our overall debt has been reduced by about $650,000.00!
  • We now live on one income for the first time in our lives.
  • I was able to retire my law practice in late 2018.
  • We increased our savings rate to 29% (from about 5-7%).
  • We reduced our monthly expenses in one year by $2,813.00. ($9,931.00 total monthly expenses cut since July of 2018.)
  • We began real estate investing and will see a positive cash flow of $1100.00 a month from real estate investments.
  • We are consumer debt free – all that remains are our student loans.

Even we are blown away by the progress that has been made.  We hope our story will encourage others that there is a way out of debt.  It takes hard work and lots of sacrifice, but it is all worth it.  And, the VERY BEST way to get through the hard times is to surround yourself with community.

It doesn’t have to be a Chautauqua.  Join a local meet-up or a Facebook Group.  Listen to a podcast or audiobook.  You matter and the very best way for you to stay focused and encouraged on this journey is to surround yourself with others who are like-minded and understand what you are trying to accomplish.


We’re not done.  We are still on the mountain.  We are a lot closer to the top, and the view up here is spectacular, but we are nowhere near the summit.

We have a plan to attack our student loans, but the real focus is on our future.

Our main objective is to create a lasting legacy for our children and their children and the generations of children after them.   We want to grow financially literate kids.  We intend to involve them in the operation of our real estate investment business.  We want to teach them that they don’t have to live life like everyone else.  We don’t want them to ever have to grapple with six-digit student loan debt.  We want them to understand that financial independence equals choice – freedom.  That will be the true nature of our legacy.

So now, we build. If you would like to follow out ongoing journey we post updates on YouTube every month. Please subscribe so you you’ll get notified of our next update.

8 thoughts on “7 Actions to Eliminate $650,000 in Debt”

  1. Wendy this is an amazing story and I had no idea of how much progress you have made. I am so impressed. WOW. And I love that you want to involve the kids in your new real estate business and what you are working on. I am inspired by your work and focus. You and Curtis have made so much progress. Keep going!

    1. Thanks Alan! We are grateful that we are able to share our journey. It has been such a help to surround ourselves with like-minded people like you and Katie. It’s been a wild ride so far. Can’t wait to see where else it takes us!

  2. Michele Conner

    Wow! Those are incredible results and perhaps the most profound is the mind shift which started it all and keeps it going. Thank you for sharing your story which shows when a couple is aligned in spirit, BIG things happen!

    1. Thank you so much Michele! Big things always begin with a shift in mindset.

  3. Very Impressive Wendy, this post is very inspirational, I’m very happy for your family and I’m happy to be on the journey with you.

    1. Thank you Fritz! I am encouraged by your progress as well. That’s what I love so much about our community.

  4. Pingback: 1 MILLION in Debt | How the FIRE Movement Gave Us Hope - House of FI - Financial Independence for Families

  5. Pingback: How to Use Cash Envelopes to Stay on Budget | House of FI - Financial Independence for Families

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